Centrelink Debt Debacle

Fight your debt notice: online resources
Fight back with us
Public legal responses
Political responses

Back to AUWU Dignity Not Debt campaign


Fight your debt notice: online resources

GetUp have developed FraudStop, an online tool for individuals to dispute false debts as quickly and easily as possible. It lets people lodge an appeal in just five minutes, instead of waiting hours on the phone with no result.

#NotMyDebt terrific help page, a step-by-step guide.

The National Welfare Rights Network fact sheet (also here, and, here) on what to do if you have a received a debt letter.

Victoria Legal Aid, read their great information whether or not you live in Victoria.

Green Left Weekly, comprehensive guide, How to fight a Centrelink robo-debt in 10 (not so easy) steps

Crikey news website article, How to dispute a Centrelink debt.

The Sydney Morning Herald article, What should you do if you get a Centrelink debt letter?

Our very own AUWU Centrelink Debt Officer.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) fact sheet, if you get to this point.

Department of Human Services (delivers the Centrelink service) online information about Centrelink debts and appeals (read for information, not advice).

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warning (and here) about phone calls from scammers pretending to be from the Department of Human Services or Centrelink.

An article on Crikey explains the statute of limitations change. As of 1 January 2017, legal proceedings or any action to recover a social security debt can be commenced at any time. The former 6 year statute of limitations no longer applies.


Fight Back With Us!

Keep a record of all your activity in relation to a Centrelink debt notice, all the responses you have gotten (or not gotten), all the time it has taken you (write down dates etc), what it has cost you (keep receipts of phone bills, medical bills, lost income, your use of crisis services). When phoning government departments, get a reference number for your complaint, and the name of the person you spoke with.

Use this record to tell your story, make a complaint, and even join a class action suit. This is vital for keeping the issue alive, and helping others in the same boat, and ultimately overturning this cruel government policy.

Contact any/all of the following to make a complaint about the “Online Compliance Intervention” program (the new “debt robot” system). Whatever the response you get, adding your voice will have an effect (see political responses below). Your feedback will help build the case for those such as the Ombudsman who are fighting for us, and it will put pressure on those opposed to us. Know that hundreds, if not thousands, are already using these channels!

  • Phone the DHS (Centrelink’s) Feedback and Complaints line on 1800 132 468, or contact them online at humanservices.gov.au/feedback
  • Contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman (info page)
    Mr Colin Neave
    Level 5, Childers Square, 14 Childers Street, Canberra ACT 2600
    GPO Box 442, Canberra ACT 2601
    Complaints line: 1300 362 072
    ombudsman@ombudsman.gov.au
    http://www.ombudsman.gov.au
  • Request the documents on your supposed debt to them, from the Department of Human Service’s Freedom of Information unit
  • Request some information about the “Online Compliance Intervention” program from the Department of Human Service’s Freedom of Information unit
  • hank_jongenEmail Hank who did encourage people to contact him directly!
    Hank Jongen
    Department of Human Services (DHS) spokesperson and General Manager
    hank@humanservices.gov.au
    Hank.Jongen@humanservices.gov.au
    Telephone: (02) 6155 7788
    PO Box 7788 Canberra Business Centre ACT 2610
  • Contact Kathryn who was on the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation program (or WPIT) advisory panel, and is apparently not responding to media requests for interviews.
    Kathryn Campbell
    Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary
    PO Box 7788 Canberra Business Centre ACT 2610
    Kathryn.Campbell@humanservices.gov.au
    Telephone:  (02) 6155 7788
  • porterContact the Hon Christian Porter MP who was reported as saying the system is “actually working incredibly well,” and “These are not debt letters… they are polite letters”.
    Christian Porter MP
    Minister for Social Services
    Phone: (08) 6296 7255 (electorate office)
    Phone: (02) 6277 7560 (parliament house office)
    Christian.Porter.MP@aph.gov.au
    3/28 Main Street (PO Box 2226?), Ellenbrook WA 6069
    PO Box 1005, Midland WA 6936
    http://www.facebook.com/christianportermp
    http://www.twitter.com/cporterwa
  • tudgeContact The Hon Alan Tudge MP who was reported as saying, “We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison”.
    Alan Tudge MP
    Minister for Human Services
    420 Burwood Highway
    Level 1, Suite 4
    Wantirna South VIC 3152
    alan.tudge.mp@aph.gov.au
    Phone: (03) 9887 3890 (electorate office)
    Phone: (02) 6277 7200 (parliament house office)
  • turnbullContact the Prime Minister, reported as describing Centrelink’s automated debt-recovery program as “entirely responsible and appropriate”.
    The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
    Prime Minister
    Ground Floor, 287-289 New South Head Rd, Edgecliff , NSW 2027
    PO Box 545, Edgecliff , NSW 2027
    Malcolm.Turnbull.MP@aph.gov.au
    Phone: (02) 9327 3988
    Phone:  (02) 6277 7480
  • Contact your local federal representative
    Take all the info you can put together about your individual situation to your local member. Show him/her your notices from Centrelink, and request they step in and resolve the matter for you. If they say they there is nothing they can do, remind them they are paid to represent you, the constituent. Tell them you will be back the next day to see what they are doing about it. “CC” all your correspondence with the government departments to your representative, even if you don’t expect a response from them.
  • Don’t forget to contact “friendly” politicians (see political responses below). Describe how stressful it has been to deal with the unfair debt notice, and thank them for their work to resolve the situation.
  • Join a class action (see legal responses below)
  • Sign a petition:
    • From the creators of #NotMyDebt, and on iscentrelinkdown.com: House of Representatives e-petition requesting that the House suspend the data matching compliance system. This petition goes directly to the House of Reps and they’re required to acknowledge and record it.
    • Petition to Suspend Centrelink’s Automated Debt recovery until it’s fixed
    • The Greens: End the debt debacle: Join us in calling on the Government to scrap the debt recovery system altogether and support a Senate inquiry
    • Petition to drop the debt program and restore permanent staff to DHS.
    • Petition to Sack Human Services Minister Alan Tudge – yeah, well we’re still sick of him!
  • Share your story or make a statement on social media:
  • Go to a rally, protest or other action, such as
  • Comment on online news articles, and media releases
  • Have some fun with this

Public Legal Responses

The Centrelink Class Action facebook group
23 January, 2017: Slater and Gordon have advised that they will be giving everyone’s cases serious consideration and will be looking at trying to launch a class action in relation to the Centrelink debt recovery scheme over the next two months.

~

Disability advocate Fiona Tipping put this call out to victims of the Centrelink overpayment debacle: If you or anyone you know are interested in participating in a class action against the Government please list your interest and contact details to this email address and I will pass it onto potential law firms when they have expressed a willingness to instigate one. They will not do so until they have people who are willing to participate so share widely.
classactionlawsuit2017@gmail.com

~

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has agreed to independent MP Andrew Wilkie‘s request for an investigation which he had lodged before Christmas – a move backed by Senator Nick Xenophon. The investigation will reportedly focus on three areas: the data-matching process used to compare Centrelink records with those of the tax departments; how Centrelink communicated with clients, and how the agency managed the fallout.

Mr Neave has commenced an own-motion investigation into the matter and is considering the issues on a systemic level. The Ombudsman conducts own-motions in private and, accordingly, cannot comment on any specific details. The investigation will result in a publicly-released report, but the ombudsman only has authority to call for changes through recommendations to government and cannot compel action.

~

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) believes that the behaviour of Centrelink and the Social Services Minister involves numerous breaches of the human rights of those being targeted for alleged debts, contrary to Australia’s international law obligations.

~

The Australian Lawyers Association has said it believes those wrongly targeted with debts could sue the government but said those billed for lesser amounts would need to mount a class action for a civil case to be viable.

~

If Centrelink is found to have breached its duty of care, as stipulated in the 2013 Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act, those people wrongly issued debt notices may have grounds to sue the social service, say the Australian Lawyers Alliance. The Australian government’s own guide to social security laws says Centrelink and all government agencies have a duty of care to provide accurate information and advice to individuals.

~

National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN) are looking into how the Centrelink debt program complies with the Digital Services Standards.

~

Editorial opinion: The machine relied on by the government to recover welfare overpayments has actually misapplied the law. To issue debt notices without evidence is to break the law.


Public Political Responses

16 December, 2016: Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie is calling on Centrelink to shut the system down. He says he is hearing from “distraught and terrified” people hit with “incorrect” debt notices. Wilkie says the system has “gone rogue”.

29 December, 2016: This is a crude and inaccurate approach… and we think it should stop,” Shadow Social Services Minister Doug Cameron told Radio National.

December 2016: Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz said the system should be “ironed out” if there were issues with false findings, but did not go so far to call for its suspension.

6 January, 2017: Labor’s human services spokeswoman Linda Burney has written to the Auditor-General at the Australian National Audit Office, requesting an investigation into the system.

6 January, 2017: Senior frontbencher Anthony Albanese said the government needed to “acknowledge this has been done in an incompetent and a callous way and fix this debacle”.

9 January, 2017: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on the Turnbull government to immediately suspend Centrelink’s controversial automated debt recovery program, describing it as a “toxic mix of incompetence and cruelty” that has ruined Christmas for vulnerable Australians. (Recall that Labor’s leadership team of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek pioneered the “robo-debt” data-matching system Centrelink is using to target current and former welfare recipients.)

17 January, 2017: Senator Eric Abetz (Lib, Tas) criticised the introduction of the system, which had wrongly issued a debt to a member of his extended family. He said the automated system had caused a lot of “unnecessary consternation”, which he said was “something to be regretted”.

18 January, 2017: Ballarat MP Catherine King said Labor would refer the “robo-debt program” to a Senate Inquiry (which would enable members of the public to make their own submissions) when parliament resumes next month.

18 January, 2017: One Nation and the Nick Xenophon team have confirmed their support for a Senate inquiry, giving the Greens and Labor the numbers.

19 January, 2017: Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam has written to the human services minister, Alan Tudge, to express concerns about the troubled system.

20 January, 2017: Tasmania’s Human Services Minister Jacquie Petrusma wants the Commonwealth to delay the expansion of Centrelink’s troubled debt recovery program.


Good luck with your personal situation. Together we can fight back!

Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union